It goes without saying that 2012 wasn't the easiest year to be a UFC fan, nor was it the easiest year for the people who work every day to make the company a success.
For the first time in history, a UFC event was cancelled. I honestly never thought I'd see the day that happened, but I also never foresaw the glut of injuries that wrecked many a fight card in 2012. There wasn't a single card unaffected by what we affectionately call "The Injury Curse," and a large majority of events were significantly impacted by injuries to main-event or featured-bout competitors.
We can only hope that 2013 is better in that regard. But there are other things I hope for in 2013. Not for me, really, but for the fighters who thrill us every time they step in the cage.
And so, with that in mind, I'm creating a list of New Year's resolutions for each champion on the UFC roster. Think of these as the things I would absolutely make happen if the UFC were like a version of SimCity or another God-type simulator; these are the things I want, and I'd like to see them happen.
Let's get started.
They're 1-1. Through two fights, each man has dominated the other, though in very different fashion.
Junior dos Santos finished Cain Velasquez just over a year ago to become the UFC heavyweight champion. Velasquez returned the favor last month by utterly wrecking Dos Santos over the course of five full rounds, laying a beating on the now-former champion that may ultimately shorten his career.
From a marketing perspective, it couldn't have gone any better for the UFC. They're now poised to make the third fight in a heavyweight trilogy that will likely be as big as any in company history. Sure, Alistair Overeem will get his shot—provided he beats Antonio Silva and the drug test that accompanies it at UFC 156—but Dos Santos will be waiting in the wings. He may need a single win, or he may not, but he'll be back in the title picture by the end of the year.
When the pair first met at the initial UFC on Fox event, they were essentially unknowns. That's no longer the case, and they have each other to thank. A third fight between the two best heavyweights in the company will do major business on pay per view and will go a long way toward cementing both as superstars.
The day is rapidly approaching.
It's long been considered an inevitability that Jon Jones will make the move up to heavyweight. He's a huge light heavyweight to begin with, and he's quickly exhausting his list of potential contenders. We still have Chael Sonnen, Dan Henderson, Alexander Gustafsson and possibly Glover Teixeira, but Jones may decide that he's finished up his duties as champion by the end of this year.
Jones mentioned in an interview a long time ago that he was targeting 2013 as the time when he would move up. I hope that's the case. The thought of Jones vs. Velasquez, Jones vs. Dos Santos and Jones vs. Overeem sends chills down my spine, and I cannot imagine a fan on the planet who wouldn't be thrilled by the thought of Jones trying to crack open the heavyweight division.
I hope it happens in 2013.
I mentioned in the previous slide that Jon Jones has nearly exhausted all of his contenders at light heavyweight.
Silva is much further along in the middleweight division, and after a potential bout with Michael Bisping—who is highly deserving and will get his shot as long as he beats Vitor Belfort later this month—there isn't much left on the docket that will intrigue fans.
At that point, it's time to move on to the super fights. We know Silva wants Georges St-Pierre, though the welterweight champion doesn't seem all that excited by the idea. Dana White is still convinced that he can get the job done, though.
After St-Pierre? What happens if Silva wrecks the longtime welterweight champion? I know what I'd like to see, and that's a fight with Jon Jones at Cowboys Stadium. Make it the final title defense for Jones before he moves to heavyweight. Make it a non-title fight. I don't care how it happens; I just want to see it.
Georges St-Pierre is one of the nicest guys in the UFC. Few of his challengers, outside of B.J. Penn and Josh Koscheck—who said he was only talking trash to build up a fight—have ever had anything bad to say about the champ.
That's why it's so crucial for St-Pierre to fight Nick Diaz.
Do I believe Diaz actually deserves the shot right now? Not by a long shot. But St-Pierre wants to fight him, and Diaz has spent years calling out the UFC champion and building up all sorts of bad blood.
That's the kind of thing St-Pierre needs to really bring out the top level of his game. Sure, he's good in every fight. But he's even more intriguing when he's fighting to defend his honor.
That's why I'm hoping Diaz meets all of his pre-fight obligations. Not just because the fight will be good, but because St-Pierre deserves the fight with Diaz much more than Diaz deserves the fight with St-Pierre.
Lightweight champion Benson Henderson is one of the most talented fighters on the planet. But thus far, his popularity with the fans hasn't quite reached the level of his fellow UFC champs, or even to the level of Frankie Edgar.
That's a strange thing. Henderson has been excellent in all of his fights, especially since becoming lightweight champion. He has exciting fights, and he's turning in better performances each time he steps in the cage. In his last title defense, he made a very good fighter in Nate Diaz look decidedly average.
My wish for Henderson this year is that he finally catches on with the fans. I suspect his next fight will come against Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez—perhaps even on free Fox television again—and a great performance against Melendez should help cement him in the eyes of fans who haven't quite caught on just yet.
Almost every other wish on this list has something to do with fighting or with potential opponents. For Aldo, I wish something much simpler and much easier to actually accomplish.
I want Jose Aldo to never sit on a motorcycle again. Or, if he does decide to go cruising through the streets of Brazil on his UFC-gifted bike, I want him to wear as much protective gear as he possibly can.
The UFC awarding motorcycles to fighters who win competitions or defend titles is a weird thing, especially when you consider that all new Zuffa contracts prohibit dangerous activities such as riding motorcycles. But the practice will continue as long as Harley Davidson remains a title sponsor of big events.
We've already seen the Aldo vs. Edgar fight delayed once due to injuries suffered while riding a motorcycle. I don't want to see it again. So please, for the love of God, stay away from motorcycles.
Dominick Cruz has a pretty awesome style of fighting. It's completely unique and a lot of fun to watch. His speed and awkward footwork make him one of the most interesting fighters in the UFC, even if the fans haven't quite caught on just yet.
But that awkward footwork also makes for a high risk of injury. We haven't seen Cruz in the Octagon in more than a year, all thanks to a gimp knee injury. Well, it was a knee injury at first, and then the cadaver tendon that was used to repair his knee failed, extending his stay on the shelf until next summer at the earliest.
For Cruz, I want a good knee. A knee that won't tear. A knee that holds up to the rigors of his movement and footwork. A knee that will allow him to fight and defend his title more than once every 16 months.
I'd wager that few fans outside of the hardcore community know anything about Renan Barao. Hell, they may not even know that the UFC has an interim bantamweight champion.
Sure, Barao's a UFC champion, but in name only. He has the least amount of visibility of all of the UFC champions. That's not all his fault, of course; after winning the interim title, the UFC thought it would be a good idea to hold him out to face Dominick Cruz, so he wasn't promoted all that much.
But then Cruz was injured, and now they have to kick the promo machine into top gear to get fans interested in Barao's title defense against Michael McDonald.
What I'd like for Barao is a string of utterly dominant title defenses that help build him up into a legitimate star by the time he finally faces Cruz. I don't see a day any time soon when bantamweights or flyweights becoming million-buy pay-per-view draws, but that doesn't mean Barao's star can't rise a little bit.
It sure can, and I hope he gets the chance to show what he can do.
Demetrious Johnson is one of my personal favorite fighters to watch. I love the speed, the attacking angles and the technique.
But it's no secret that the flyweights haven't caught on with the fans. Maybe it's because they're so small that it makes the out-of-shape 250-pound fans in the crowd think they could take them in a real fight. Maybe it's because the speed at which they operate leaves folks bewildered.
Or maybe it's because Johnson seemingly favors a dodge-and-outpoint game plan these days.
Whatever the reason, I'd like to see Johnson have a string of title defenses that send fans into rapture. He has a chance to do just that with John Dodson later this month; Dodson consistently attacks and has one-punch knockout power—a rarity in the division—and Johnson will be presented with plenty of opportunities to finish.
It will only take one or two thrilling fights for Johnson's star to begin rising. I hope he gets those fights in 2013.
We're entering the world of the completely unknown in February when Ronda Rousey meets Liz Carmouche in the main event of UFC 157.
Females have never fought in the UFC before. They've certainly never headlined pay-per-view events.
We don't know how successful Rousey will be in that spot. Sure, she's drawn great numbers for Strikeforce, but selling a fight on Showtime and convincing 500,000 fans to plop down $60 to watch you fight are completely different things.
And so, for Rousey, I wish nothing but success as a UFC headliner. That, and I hope that Cris Cyborg's weight cut goes well.
Because if Cyborg is able to make weight—and if Rousey dominates Carmouche like many expect she will—it sets up one of the biggest fights of 2013. Again, this is hypothetical, because we don't know how females will do when they have to sell pay-per-view events. But all indications are that a fight between Rousey and Cyborg would sell like gangbusters.
It's not too much to ask, is it?